If it was the larger than life characters which inspired my last post, today, it is those forever-been-there characters of my life which inspires this post. Comics, the word itself invokes so many happy memories… More
I have been thinking about this post for far too long, even before I started this blog. While writing my last post on my favorite comics, I was tempted to write about Ruff, Hot Dog, Snowy, yes, the canine companions who were indispensable to the main comic characters. I am finally giving in to the temptation but to avoid the boredom of repetition, I am instead writing about another three but equally unforgettable dogs, I have read about and watched till date.
1. Marley and Me
Marley and Me’ will always be my first on any list of movies with animals. Released on the Christmas day of 2008, it was adapted from an international bestseller with the same title. The author, John Grogan, who lost his dog named Marley in 2003, wrote an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The volume of responses from readers amazed Grogan and he was so overwhelmed that he decided to follow it up with a book. Grogan stated that the unexpected responses from his readers made him realize that he had “a bigger story to tell” and “owed it to Marley to tell the rest of the story.” This memoir sold over five million copies in over 30 languages in the year 2005 and won the Quill Awards in 2006. Several books, especially for children like, Bad Dog, Marley, A Very Marley Christmas, and Marley Goes to School followed, but the charms of the first book was unmatched.
The film starring Owen Wilson as Grogan and Jennifer Aniston as his wife, Jenny portrayed a young couple madly in love who brought home a yellow Labrador puppy, and how that changed their lives forever. The puppy named Marley bulldozed his way into their lives, made them cry in agony but also laugh their hearts out with his uncontrollable mischief and boundless energy, always the center of some mess. No spoilers ahead for the readers who are yet to watch this movie, so I consciously selected the official movie trailer for a sneak peek.
My special feeling for ‘Marley and Me’ stems from a personal experience with my friend’s dog, Ginger (Gin) who pulled all the strings of my heart with the love at first sight kind of a feeling as she steamrolled into our lives and turned it all over. Gin, could have been Marley’s twin, by looks, vivacity, exuberance, sparkle, liveliness, and I can go on and on with the list of synonyms and still not be done, not to forget the overdose of drooling cuteness! My friend, Praveen rescued Gin as a puppy from a water fountain in a street one night and handed her over to a shelter. An avid dog lover, Praveen had a bad sleep that night and went back to the shelter to check on her. The spirited welcome he got from the puppy that morning melted him and unable to adopt her himself, Praveen passed her on to another friend, Prashanth who was caught unawares, totally unprepared for the turn his life was about to take. The vet who examined Gin diagnosed her with rat fever and it was a grim situation. But we were yet to discover what a fighter like Gin and her equally tenacious master, Prashanth would achieve together. For three months, Gin and her master fought the battle together, every night, every day, neither of them willing to give up. And they won. And a healthy frolicking energetic Gin barreled into our lives, won our hearts and fueled a roller coaster ride for all of us, I wished it would never ever end!
I watched the movie, ‘Marley and me’ after ‘Gin’ happened and almost in every scene, I would get confused whether I was watching Marley or Gin. Owen Wilson and Prashanth as the masters could have swapped roles too, both in terms of the deep emotional bonding with their pets as well as their mental constitution. So, I was not capable of analyzing the movie, critically. I was favorably biased. I think I read the memoir, a couple of years later, around 2010. Narrated in first person with the minute details and penned with unconditional affection, Grogan’s style of writing captivated me and boosted my affection for both Marley and Gin a few degrees deeper. The movie, a must watch, the memoir, a must read too, especially if you have ever owned or loved a dog. All dogs are special, but a rare phenomenon like a Marley or a Gin happens only to special people, and I am lucky to be one from that elite bunch.
2. Lassie Come Home
Lassie is a fictional female Rough Collie dog character created by English American author, Eric Knight. In 1938, Knight wrote a short story titled Lassie Come Home, which was published in The Saturday Evening Post and became so popular that the writer published a novel by the same title in 1940. The story is set in England during the Great Depression in which a dog makes the long arduous journey from remote Scotland to Yorkshire, England on her own and the adventures and mishaps she braves through to be reunited with her young master, Joe. Ever since, the story of Lassie has become one of the best-loved dog stories ever.
The success of the book was followed by the expected commercial onslaught of adaptation of Lassi’s story in numerous radio shows, the television series, films, toys, comic books, animated series, juvenile novels, and other media. Different depictions have won various awards too all through the years. So much so, that a company was formed to manage such shows across the years. Among all which I have watched so far, I would rate the first cinematic adaptation of the story by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1943 as the best one till date. A dog named, Pal played Lassie in this feature film also starred Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor. This movie was a hit and enjoyed immense popularity and is a treat to watch even today.
Lassie, a fictional dog, achieves an impossible feat in the story, so, critics might shrug it off as a whimsical story. But what makes the story endearing to one and many is that Lassie did not care for the luxuries provided by her new owner, instead moved mountains (literally!) to get back to her impoverished old master. This kind of true love would never fail to touch a deep chord with both book readers as well as movie goers.
3. White Fang
This is the odd one from today’s list, White Fang is the story of a wild wolfdog (Arctic wolf-Siberian Husky hybrid), not the usual cuddle and mushy story of a cute dog, but still a story epitomizing loyalty, friendship and love between a human and his pet. Jack London wrote the novel in 1906 and it was an immediate success worldwide. Since its publication, this book has been translated to 89 different languages and into three Braille editions as well. Three years, earlier in 1903, London had attained fame with another novel, The Call of the Wild, a story diametrically opposite to that of the White Fang. The Call of the Wild was a story of a pet dog who was kidnapped and forced to survive in the wild. White Fang had a ring of autobiographic tone and readers wondered if it was a true story, such speculation helped to a large extent in attaining mass popularity. The story is set in the picturesque but harsh Yukon Territory during the Klondike Gold Rush.
The first film adaptation of this book was in 1925 and as expected has followed a string of movies subsequently. My favorite among the many cinematographic adaptations which I have watched so far is the one which was released in 1991 starring Ethan Hawke. A wide eyed 21-year-old Hawke was the perfect casting for the role of Jack Conroy, White Fang’s most affectionate master. The character of ‘White Fang’ was played by a seasoned dog actor, Jed, the wolfdog. Directed by Randal Kleiser (debut director of Grease, 1978), this movie is brilliant in casting, acting and cinematography as well.
Both the book and movie illustrate the violent world of wild animals as well as the cruelty of humans, so I would not recommend this either to the weak hearted or children, not even young adults or to watch as a family. However, the beautiful scenery and the story is very enthralling. Both critics and loyalists of London considered this novel as inferior to ‘The Call of the Wild’, I however disagree. This was not an easy story to write, the reader does not fall in love at first sight with the protagonist, White Fang as it snarls, attacks and fights at the slightest provocation. However, London’s natural style of narration kind of weaves a feeling of sympathy, empathy and finally love for this heroic dog. Some of the names of the characters from the book have been changed in the movie which I thought was unnecessary. I would have wanted a few more scenes from the book to be included in the movie, as I felt a sense of abruptness in the story. But Ethan Hawke and his wild dog would keep you engaged with their raw brilliance.
London shot to fame as a popular American literary personality, but was embroiled in the nature fakers controversy. London responded to this criticism in his 1908 essay entitled, ‘The Other Animals’: “I have been guilty of writing two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the “humanizing” of animals, of which it seemed to me several “animal writers” had been profoundly guilty. Time and again, and many times, in my narratives, I wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: “He did not think these things; he merely did them,” etc. And I did this repeatedly, to the clogging of my narrative and in violation of my artistic canons; and I did it in order to hammer into the average human understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation and emotion, and by simple reasoning. Also, I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research, and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers. “
I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite dog trio today. I have never owned a dog myself. My father was bitten multiple times by pet dogs from the neighborhood in his childhood, so he could never agree for a dog at home. So, I grew up amidst my cousins and friends and their pet dogs, Gypsy, Rockey, Tuffy, Jingle, Rancho, Tyson, Cooper, Gin, just to name a few. I could write pages with anecdotes on each of these dogs and I would still have more to say. My spouse also shares the same non-enthusiasm for pet dogs like my father, so my hope of ever owning a pet dog in this lifetime looks bleak. But my life has been enriched with such beautiful experiences with so many amazing dogs in real life, that every reel life dog appeal to me in some special way. Hence, selecting just these three out of so many, wasn’t easy!
I am sure you have your own story of your favorite dog (s) too. I would really like to hear about them, so please share your stories, if dogs are man’s best friends, we can be theirs too! So, long till next time, keep reading, keep watching and keep barking loud!
Wondering whether to read the book or to watch the on screen adaptation? Yes, I have been wrestling with that, book by book, movie by movie and TV series by TV series, year after year and it never gets easier, ever. So here I am to help you choose, though today it is not so much of a choice but rather a list of equals across different genres. Here, I have a list for you today, my list of three awesome books (series) which met their equally magnificent cinematic adaptations:
1. Gone with the Wind
This classic American novel by Margaret Mitchell published in 1936 needs no review. Set in Georgia, during the American Civil War Era, the world fell in love with the duo of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner and her hero, Rhett Butler. As if the book was not enough to take over the world, the movie adaptation in 1940 captured the imagination of the most cynical skeptics too. I never get tired of saying this every time I watch this movie, “Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh were born to play Rhett and Scarlett.”
I read the novel for the first time in high school, was love struck; watched the movie years later and swooned over again. The cast, the direction, the cinematography, everything was so perfect, just the way I imagined as I had read. If the not-so-happy ending of the book haunted me for years, the last words by Rhett Butler in the movie echoed inside my mind for years too “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” to Scarlett O’Hara, in response to her tearful question: “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” I give a lot of damn, both for the book and the movie and I hope you do too!
2. Harry Potter Series
The Harry Potter (HP) series of seven fantasy novels written by British author, J.K. Rowling was for children to read about magic, wizards witches and all that stuff. What really happened surprised Rowling more than anyone else. From the first book, “The Philosopher’s Stone” published in 1997 to the last one, “The Deathly Hallows” in 2007, the books wove magic on children and adults all over the world, popularity, critical acclaim, commercial success, yes, these books lapped all of it. The eight movie series based on the seven books, distributed by Warner Brothers started with “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone“ (2001) and ended with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” (2011). Riding on the popularity of the books, yes agreed, but each movie with its most intricate detail were impeccable adaptations by their own rights too.
If Rowling took six years to write her first HP book, I give her an ode to her patience by waiting for 15 years from the first book’s release to actually buy the entire series in 2012. I read them at a voracious speed one after the other in less than a month, juggling with a demanding job, and was that fun! The next day, I binge watched all the eight movies on a four-day holiday weekend! And it was worth the wait, worth every missed out conversation among friends, the spell jokes among colleagues which I didn’t understand, yes, the endurance was worth it all. The books weave magic on you and the movies only tighten the web making you shout for more. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter is immortalized I guess, difficult for any of us to see him play any other role in any other movie. Kind of like a curse actually for such a good actor! I am sure many of you reading this will have crazier stories for the HP series, do share them with me. I still feel the euphoria all over again. Maybe time for another read, another watch?
3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The only TV series in the list and no, last does not mean least by any means. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created “Sherlock Homes” one of the most enduring character in crime fiction and wrote 60 stories. The first 12 stories were published in 1892 and from then on, Detective Holmes and his friend, Dr. Watson became a worldwide phenomenon. Doyle was conferred knighthood for it and even today, 127 years since the first story, Sherlock Holmes lives on. In fact, the author got so fed up with the obsession over Holmes that he killed him in one of his books (The Reichenbach Fall) but had to bring him back to life out of pressure from the fans worldwide with the author even getting death threats. The review of the astronomical number of movies and TV series adaptations done on Sherlock Holmes around the world will fill up another series of books and I am still counting.
I watched a Sherlock Holmes TV series when I was in middle school and did not understand much of it then. In high school, I started reading Sherlock Holmes and no surprises, got hooked on to it totally. From then on, I have tried to watch as many adaptations of movies and TV series, including the portrayals by Benedict Cumberbatch as well as by Robert Downey Jr. But my thoughts kept going back to that old TV series from school. Thanks to the internet, I retrieved the series and watched both the seasons at one go, recently. And I rate that as the best adaptation ever of this detective series. This TV series was first released in 1984. Jeremy Brett played Sherlock and David Burke played Dr. Watson. The aquiline nose, the top hat, the pipe and his eccentricities, Jeremy Brett has the character of Holmes embedded in every look, every gesture and every word. One series I will recommend to every aficionado of Sherlock Holmes!
I hope you loved reading this list as much as I loved penning it. To be honest with you, I have repeatedly read each book and watched each cinematic adaptation umpteen number of times to help me choose, the book or the theatre. And I just couldn’t, every repeat only reinforced my wonder of such fine adaptations that matched the books, every word to every act!. Please leave me your comments below, I will really love to hear back from you. I will like it even more if you come up with your own views about this list, which may help me choose the better of the two. And, yes, that will also mean I do another repeat read and watch with your valuable inputs, an opportunity I don’t want to miss. Keep reading, keep watching, I will be back soon!